Caliph (Arabic: خليفة Halifah / Khalifah) is the head of state in a caliphate, and the title of prince of the Islamic community, an Islamic community governed by Sharia . The word derives from Arabic . In the wake of Muhammad’s death in 632 , the first leaders of the Muslim nation were called Khalifat Rasul Allah, the political successors to the messenger of God (in reference to Muhammad). Some scholars prefer to transliterate the term as Khalifa.


[ hide ]

  • 1 Succession to Muhammad
  • 2 History
    • 1 Succession and recognition
    • 2 Caliphate of Ali and the rise of the Umayyad dynasty
    • 3 Umayyads
    • 4 Abbasids
    • 5 Fatimids
    • 6 Ottomans
    • 7 Abolition of the institution
  • 3 Uses of the title
    • 1 Religious leaders
    • 2 Secular offices
  • 4 Other uses
  • 5 Notable Caliphs
  • 6 Dynasties
  • 7 Sources

Succession to Muhammad

The title carries a dual role of political and spiritual leadership, which makes it like other institutions. After the death of Muhammad in 632, until 1924 were considered caliphs who succeeded him as head of the umma or community of Muslims.

On the death of Muhammad he was succeeded as Caliph and in consensus by the Muslim community Abū Bakr , who was recognized for his human qualities and his faith among the Islamic community. It is said that he was the best of Muhammad’s companions.

The caliphs were to be both political and religious leaders. As religious they had no power to prescribe any dogma, since it was considered that divine revelation had been completed and made manifest through Muhammad. There was nothing to add. As political leaders, the caliphs of Baghdad , the most recognized and enduring caliphate, soon lost their powers to the various sultans , who were the effective rulers of the territories under the aegis of the caliph.

According to Sunni thought, the first four caliphs of the Islamic world constituted a golden age and were called the “well-guided” or “four righteous caliphs.” They also imposed some requirements to access the caliphate:

  • The caliph must be an Arab and belong to the tribe of Quraish (to which Muhammad belonged).
  • A council of elders representing the Islamic community would choose the successor.
  • The caliph’s mission was to spread Islam .

In the thinking of the Shiites, Muhammad himself had appointed a successor before he died. This successor was his son-in-law Ali ibn Abi Talib, married to his daughter Fatima . Ali and his successors would thus be the legitimate caliphs for the Shiites . Ali was elected caliph in fourth place, but after his election an Al-Fitna al-Kubra or civil war broke out that led to the division of the umma into three blocs: Ali’s supporters, henceforth called Shiites; the supporters of Muawiya, his opponent and first Umayyad caliph, who would constitute the majority and would eventually be called Sunnis; a third group, the Kharijites, opposed both to one another and supporters of the election of the caliph among all Muslims. The first four caliphs: Abu Bakr as-Siddiq, Omar ibn al-Khattab , Uthman ibn Affan , and Ali ibn Abi Talib are commonly recognized by Sunnis, especially as the Khulafā’ur – Rashideen (“rightly led successors”) Caliphs.


Succession and recognition

Sunni and Shiite Muslims differ on the legitimacy of the reigns of the Khulfa -e- Rashideen, the first four caliphs. The Sunnis follow the caliphates of the four, while the Shiites recognize only the Caliphate of Ali. This schism occurred in the wake of Omar’s death. According to Sunni beliefs, Muhammad did not give specific instructions regarding the choice of his successor when he died. At that time there were two traditional means of selecting a leader: some had hereditary leaders such as sultans or kings, while some were appointed by the ulama.

While Sunnis and Shiites differ markedly in the conduct of a caliph and the correct relationships between a leader and a community, they do not differ in the underlying theory of administration. Both abhor wasting natural resources, particularly to show or demonstrate power.

In the initial stages the second way of choosing a leadership prevailed among Muhammad’s main companions. Abu Bakr was chosen as the first caliph or successor of Muhammad, and the rest of Muhammad’s companions swear allegiance to him. Persian citizensThey believed that Ali, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, should have succeeded. However, the appointment of the next two caliphs varied from the election of Abu Bakr. On his deathbed, Abu Bakr appointed Omar as his successor without an election by the community of scholars. Omar also altered the way his successor would be found. Before being assassinated, Omar decided that his successor would come from a group of six. This group included Ali and Uthman, another companion of Muhammad. These six would have to establish among themselves the successor of Omar. Ultimately Uthman was chosen as Omar’s successor, becoming the third caliph. Following the murder of Uthman by the Persians, Ali was chosen as the fourth caliph.

Caliphate of Ali and the rise of the Umayyad dynasty

Ali’s reign as caliph was fraught with great turmoil and internal conflict. Ali faced various rebellions and insurrections. The main one came from a misunderstanding on the part of Muawiyah, governor of Damascus , which marks the beginning of the end of the Caliphs. The Persians, taking advantage of this, infiltrated the two armies and attacked another army causing chaos and internal hatred between the comrades at the Battle of Siffin . The battle lasted several months, resulting in a stalemate. In order to avoid further bloodshed, Ali agreed to negotiate with Mu’waiyah. This caused a faction of approximately 4,000 people who are known as the Kharijites, to abandon the fight. After defeating the Kharijites at the Battle of Nahrawan, Ali would be assassinated by the Kharijite Ibn Muljam. Ali Hasan’s son was chosen as the next caliph, but he handed over his title to Mu’awiyah a few months later. Mu’awiyah became the fifth caliph, and in this way the Umayyad dynasty was established, named after Uthman and Mu’awiyah’s great-grandfather, Umayya ibn Abd Shams. (All Caliphs after Mu’awiyah are not considered true caliphs from the Islamic point of view, even though it was used as a title afterwards.)



The expansion of the caliphate under the Umayyads.

Under the Umayyads (661-750 AD, and 929-1031 in the Iberian Peninsula), the Muslim empire grew rapidly. To the west, Muslim rule spread across North Africa and into Spain . To the east, it spread through Iran and ultimately to India. This made it one of the largest empires in the history of western Eurasia. However, the Umayyad dynasty was not universally supported in Islam itself. Some Muslims supported prominent Muslims like az-Zubayr, while others thought that only members of Muhammad’s clan, the Banu Hashim, or of their own lineage, the descendants of Ali, should rule. There were numerous rebellions against the Umayyads, as well as divisions within the Umayyad ranks (in particular, the rivalry between Yaman and Qays). Over time, supporters of the Banu Hisham and the states’ claims to reduce the Umayyads by 750. However, the Shiat Ali, “Ali’s party”, were again disappointed when the Abbasid dynasty came to power, as the Abbasids were descendants of Muhammad’s uncle, Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib and not of Ali.



Map of the Abbasid Caliphate at its greatest extent.

The Abbasids would provide an unbroken line of rulers for more than five centuries (750-1258 AD), and 256 more years under the so-called Shadow Caliphate (1261-1517). The Islamic government was consolidated and great intellectual and cultural development is cultivated in the Middle East . But by 940 the power of the caliphate under the Abbasids was fading as non-Arabs, particularly those in Turkey (and later the Mamluks in Egypt in the second half of the 13th century), gained military power, and the sultans and emirs became increasingly independent. However, the caliphate endured both as a symbolic position and a unifying entity for the Islamic world.

During the period of the Abbasid dynasty, many Abbasid claims to the caliphate went unanswered. The Shia Said ibn Husayn of the Fatimid dynasty, who claimed to be a descendant of Muhammad through his daughter, claimed the title of caliph in 909, and created a separate line of caliphs in North Africa. Initially encompassing Morocco , Algeria , Tunisia and Libya , the Fatimid caliphs extended their rule over the next 150 years, taking Egypt and Palestine , before this the Abbasid dynasty was able to change course, limiting the Fatimid rule to Egypt. The Fatimid dynasty finally ended in 1171. The Umayyad dynasty, which had survived and come to rule over the Muslim provinces of Spain , regained the title of caliph in 929, extending until it was overthrown in 1031. This period of upheaval is known as the Fitna de al- Andalus.



Map of the Fatimid Caliphate also showing the cities.

The Fatimid Caliphate or al- Fātimiyyūn (Arabic الفاطميون) was a Shiite Berber dynasty that ruled over different areas of the Maghreb , Egypt, Maltaand the Levant of January 5, 909-1171, during the time that the Abbasid Caliphate ruled from Baghdad. The caliphate was ruled by the Fatimids, who established the Egyptian city of Cairo as their capital. The term Fatimid is sometimes used to refer to the citizens of this caliphate. The ruling elite of the state belonged to the Ismaili branch of Shi’ism. The leaders of the dynasty were also Shiite Ismaili religious tribes, therefore they had religious significance for Ismaili Muslims. They are also part of the chain of those bearing the title of caliph, as recognized by the majority Shiites. So this is a rare period in history when a certain form of Shiite cult and the Caliphate came together. The Fatimids, however,



The Ottoman Caliphate.

As the Ottoman empire grew in size and strength, the Ottoman rulers began with Mehmed II beginning to claim Caliphal authority. This claim was reinforced when the Ottomans defeated the Mamluks in 1517 and annexed the Arab lands. The last Abasi ruler in Cairo, al-Mutawakkil III , was taken as a political prisoner and taken to Kostantiniyye (Constantinople, conquered in 1453), where he was forced to hand over his government to Selim I. The Ottoman rulers were known by the title of Sultan.

According to Barthold, the first time the title of caliph was used as a policy in place of the symbolic religious title by the Ottomans was in the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca to end the Russo-Turkish war of 1768 – 1774 . The result of this war was a disaster for the Ottomans. Large territories, including those with large Muslim populations, such as the Crimean peninsula , were lost during the Russian Christian Empire. However, the Ottomans under Abdul Hamid I claimed a diplomatic victory, recognizing themselves as protectors of Muslims in Russiaas part of the peace treaty. This was the first time that the Ottoman Caliph was recognized as having political significance outside the Ottoman borders by a European power. As a consequence of this diplomatic victory, as the Ottoman borders were reduced, the powers of the Ottoman caliph increased. Around 1880 Sultan Abdul Hamid II reaffirmed the title as a way to counter European colonialism in Muslim lands. His demand was most fervently accepted by the Barelwis of British India. On the eve of the First World War , the Ottoman state, despite its weakness vis-à-vis Europe, represented the largest and most powerful independent Islamic political entity.

Abolition of the institution


The last caliph of Islam, Abdülmecid II.

The Khilafat movement (1919-1924) was a political, pan-Islamic protest campaign launched by Muslims in British India to influence the British government and to protect the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War. After the armistice of Mudros in October 1918, with the military occupation of Istanbul and the Treaty of Versailles (1919), the position of the Ottomans was uncertain. The movement to protect or restore the Ottomans gained strength after the Treaty of Sèvres (August 1920), which imposed the partition of the Ottoman Empire and Greecehe obtained a position of power in Anatolia, to the anguish of the Turks. They asked for help and the movement was the result, collapsing in late 1922. Turkey’s new ruler, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, wanted a secular state. On March 3, 1924, the National Assembly of Turkey dissolved the institution of the Sultanate. Occasional demonstrations have been held calling for the re-establishment of the Caliphate. Organizations demanding the re-establishment of the Caliphate include Hizb al-Tahrir, the Muslim Brotherhood. When the Istanbul-based caliphate was abolished, it could have been established in another city that was not in Turkey, but it has not been possible until now, because one of the conditions that must be met is that in the place that is designated as the seat of the caliphate , place where the caliph would reside,Moses . In other words, it is an indispensable condition that the caliph have the staff in his possession. That cane is deposited and exhibited in the Topkapi Palace museum, and the Turkish authorities do not allow it to leave there. This, together with the fact that the Turkish Constitution prohibits the existence of the caliphate on Turkish soil, means that the figure of the caliph does not currently exist.

Uses of the title

Religious leaders

  • In 19th century Sudan, Mohammed Ahmed called “the Mahdi” was succeeded by Abdallahi ibn Muhammad “the Caliph”.
  • In the Ahmadiyya sect, Khalifatul Masih is the title of the successors to their founder Messiah, except in the Lahore Separatist branch, which is led by their own emirs.

Secular offices

In Morocco, the Jerifian monarch granted the title Khalifa or Chaliphe, here it means “Viceroy”, to the royal princes (Moulay style), including future sultans, who have represented the crown in a part of the sultanate:

  • Especially in the old royal capitals of Marrakech, Fez and Meknes
  • Also to mayors in other cities, for example in Shawiya, Casablanca, Tafilalt, Tadla, Tiznit Tindouf, in the Draa river valley and in Tetouan.
  • In the 20th century, as irrevocably Representative of the sultan in the Spanish zone, later known in Spanish as the Jalifato, in addition to the High Commissioner (de facto ruler ‘High Commissioner’) of the colonial “protectorate” of Spain, who called his office the Khalifa:
    • April 19, 1913 – November 9, 1923 Mulay al-Mahdi bin Ismail bin Muhammad (d. 1923)
    • November 9, 1923 – November 9, 1925 Vacancy
    • November 9, 1925 to March 16, 1941 Mulay Hassan bin al-Mahdi (1st time) (born 1912)
    • March 16, 1941 to October 1945 Vacancy
    • October 1945 – April 7, 1956 Mulay Hassan bin al-Mahdi (second half)

Other uses

Khalifa can have a definition, either of a name, or family or tribe. It is the surname of the Al Khalifa dynasty, the rulers of the peninsular Arab nation of Bahrain, who are descended from the Bani Utub tribe.

Notable caliphs

  • Abu Bakr: First well guided by the Sunni Caliph tradition. Moderate rebels in the Ridda Wars.
  • Omar ibn al-Khattab: Second caliph well guided by the Sunni tradition. During his reign, the Islamic empire expanded to include Egypt, Jerusalem , and Persia .
  • Uthman ibn Affan: Well Guided Third Caliph. Killed by the rebels.
  • Ali ibn Abu Talib: Fourth good-led caliph by Sunni tradition, and considered the first well-led caliph by the Shiites. The last days of his reign were full of conflicts with the jihadists.
  • Muawiya I: Fifth caliph of the Umayyad dynasty. Muawiya instituted dynastic rule by naming his son Yazid as his successor, a trend that will continue throughout subsequent Kings through to the Saudis in modern times.
  • Abd al- Malik ibn Marwan – Fifth ruler Umayyad, translates important documents into Arabic, established a currency system, led wars against Byzantium and ordered the construction of the Dome of the Rock .
  • Omar ibn Abd al-Aziz: Second Umayyad Caliph regarded as a well-guided sixth Caliph in mainstream Islam.
  • Harun al-Rashid: Abbasid caliph during whose reign Baghdad became an important center of the world of commerce, learning and culture. Harun is the subject of many stories in the famous works 1001 Arabian Nights.
  • Al-Mustansir Billah: Fatimid caliph who led the Shiite Caliphate to its zenith; Cairo was a center of commerce and intellectual activity during his reign.
  • Selim I the Brave: First Caliph of the Ottoman Empire with the conquest of Egypt and the holy cities. Defeated the mighty Safavid Shiite empire.
  • Suleiman the Magnificent: Early Ottoman sultan during whose reign the Ottoman Empire reached its zenith.
  • Abdul Mejid II – Past Caliph of the Ottoman Dynasty, the 101st ruler with the title of Caliph of Caliph Abu Bakr. On August 23, 1944, Abdul Mejid II died at his home on Boulevard Suchet, Paris XVIe, France . He was buried in Medina , Saudi Arabia .


  • The Umayyad dynasty in Damascus (661-750)
  • The Abbasid dynasty in Baghdad (750-1258), and later in Cairo (under Mamluk control) (1260-1517).
  • The Shiite Fatimid dynasty in North Africa and Egypt (909-1171). Not universally accepted by Muslims and those not listed here.
  • The Rahmanids, a surviving branch of the Umayyads of Damascus, established “in exile” as emirs of Cordoba, Spain, declared themselves Caliphs (known as the Caliphs of Cordoba, not universally accepted; 929-1031).
  • The Almohad dynasty in North Africa and Spain (not universally accepted; (1145-1269). Traced his descent not by Muhammad, but from a Puritan reformer in Morocco who claimed to be the Mahdi, reducing the “decadent” Almoravid emirate, and whose son established a sultanate and claimed to be a caliph.
  • The Ottomans (1517-1924; Padishah main title, also known as Great Sultan, etc), assumed the title after defeating the Mamluk Sultanate and used it sporadically between the 20th and 16th centuries.


by Abdullah Sam
I’m a teacher, researcher and writer. I write about study subjects to improve the learning of college and university students. I write top Quality study notes Mostly, Tech, Games, Education, And Solutions/Tips and Tricks. I am a person who helps students to acquire knowledge, competence or virtue.

Leave a Comment